Scientific American interviews Judith Campisi, a member of the SENS Research Foundation's scientific advisory board and a noted figure in the aging research community. You'll note that her views are fairly conservative, much closer to the mainstream of longevity science than to SENS, however:
[SciAm]: Why is it so hard to figure out what causes aging?
[Judith Campisi]: In many ways we already know what causes aging. We just don't know what causes aging in the kind of molecular detail that would allow us to intervene in large meaningful ways. It's not even clear that once we solve those mysteries we will be able to intervene in aging or dramatically extend longevity.
I started my career studying cancer. Look at all the things we have learned since the 1970s about how cancers form in the body. And yet, still the best cures we have for most cancers are sledgehammers. Biology is complex - and this is a reality that the public has to come to grips with and our legislators have to come to grips with.
I predict aging will follow the same trajectory as cancer research. Why is aging so difficult to figure out? It's because it's a really tough problem. I think it's tougher than cancer. The time has come to really wallow in the complexities.
[SciAm]: What would you say is one of the biggest mysteries of aging research?
[Judith Campisi]: Why do organisms with remarkable genetic similarity have sometimes remarkable differences in life span? We know that for the most part, many of the processes that go on in the human body also go on in yeast and mice. Yet, yeast live a few days, a mouse lives about three years, and people live for decades. We really do not know what evolution has done to take basically the same genes and produce different life spans.
[SciAm]: Is that where the naked mole rat comes in?
[Judith Campisi]: Yes. The mystery shows up even in species that are mouselike. The naked mole rat is more related to the mouse than to us - it looks like a mouse. And yet it lives for 30 years, or 10 times longer than a regular mouse. On top of all that, it has signs of oxidative damage that exceeds that of the mouse.
Now there are three ideas that scientists have come up with to try to explain why naked mole rats live so long: Maybe oxidative damage doesn't cause aging. Maybe naked mole rats are evolutionary oddities. And then my personal favorite, maybe it's not oxidative damage that is the problem but how the cell responds to the damage. But that's all speculative.